Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 22, 2009

Speech & Debate

TheatreWorks, Hartford, CT
through July 26, 2009
by Meghan Lynn Allen

Stephen Karam's contemporary comedy follows three Oregon high school misfits and their timeless dilemma of how to be comfortable in their own skin. From coming out of the closet to how to find love to how to just plain fit in, Karam flawlessly articulates the dialogue of today's youth in crises. The three teens' lives are intertwined in a maze of internet blogging, chat rooms, and instant messages. Karam addresses the teens' struggles and issues that the adults in their lives refuse to talk about freely.

Jee Young Han plays Diwata, an aspiring and repeatedly non-cast actress in her school who is obsessed with starting a speech and debate club in order to be noticed as a performer. Han steals the show with her hilarious musical podcasts and complete over-the-top commitment to her drama queen character. Her energy is contagious. Ben Diskant portrays Solomon, a high-strung, self-conscious, sexually-repressed son of religious conservative parents. As a school paper journalist, he gets more than he bargains for as he tries to expose a possible teacher/student sex scandal. Diskant perfectly captures Solomon's uptight ways and vulnerable heart so that the audience truly feels him. The third in this comic/tragic trio is Carl Holder as Howie, an openly gay teen who faces the hurdles of a closed-minded community. Holder tackles the challenge of representing out gay youth in Karam's piece, and does so without being a trite caricature. Holder's quirky mannerisms bring a lightness to the piece that is a relief as he deals with heavy topics.

Eva Kaminsky is the voice of "the adult," and plays the roles of both a teacher and reporter. Kaminsky is a believable and welcome distraction to the fast-paced world of Karam's younger generation. The direction, set design, and lighting pop and are just as exuberant as the actors in "Speech & Debate." This comedy feels fresh and current, and it is a must-see for high school and college audiences.